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Defeating Procrastination: Analysis Paralysis

Analysis Paralysis is where you can’t make any forward progress because you bog yourself down in details, tweaking, brainstorming, research and … anything but just getting on with it. Sound familiar?

It’s something I struggle with. Partly out of fear of failure, partly because I love the idea-generation phase of projects, mostly because I am an anal geek on occasion. The very worst form of Analysis Paralysis is at the organisational level. If the company you work for spends more than an hour a week in meetings you just might have the organisational version.

There is hope though, even for chronic cases.

I launched this blog quickly. It took about a day from the decision to
launch to having my first RSS subscribers. This was a strange thing for me. I knew if I didn’t just get something up I probably would never do it at all.

Rather than spend an age tweaking and agonising I put together what you see as best as I could knowing that there are some things I can change post launch.

It’s not actually about setting your sights low, or dropping your personal standards. What you have to do is identify those things you have to get right from the get-go, those items that do need analysis, and what can be fixed later.

While it is perfectly natural to want to spend time thinking about a project, especially one with an element of risk, there comes a point where any more thinking is counter-productive and you need to start making some progress.

  1. What do you absolutely have to do for the project to be a success?
  2. What tasks can absolutely not be put off while later?
  3. What are the most painful items to change post launch?
  4. What could realistically go wrong?

In the programming world this is about setting your top priorities, the stuff you absolutely must get right and that will be difficult to refactor at a later date. For blogging, and launching a new blog especially, it is about getting the fundamentals right. Hosting. Blog software (I recommend WordPress). Domain name. Feed URL. Stats. Contact form.  Good-enough design. URL structure. Stuff that is a pain to migrate from down the line. Then just get writing.

With procrastination it always comes down to just doing it but discovering the reasons why you aren’t (other than being a lazy git making excuses!) can be very helpful in getting your sorry behind working. Analysis Paralysis often comes from learned behaviour over several years. Either it has proven beneficial, so you do a little more thinking and planning each time, or not enough planning has caused problems so each occasion you get a little more cautious.

Planning is good. Failure to plan is planning to fail. But too much can be as crippling as not enough.

It never fails to surprise me how different the world seems when my analysis faces reality. We all get some things right while other things seem to come from outer-space and no amount of thinking would have predicted it. Thinking on your feet is often as important as any amount of analysis.

  • Set a deadline and stick to it. Don’t be tempted to put it so far in the future we will all be flying around with personal jet packs.
  • Partner with or get the second opinion of someone a little more reckless – my go-to hot-head is Nick Wilson. I’m starting to think my analysis paralysis has rubbed off on him though, heh.
  • Get used to making decisions, it gets easier with practice. Start with small decisions (“caramel macchiato” vs “double-shot-latte”) and work up to the biguns.
  • Do one of the tasks on your list, then another. Easy or hard, doesn’t matter. Gain some momentum.

Finally, Stop thinking about it and start doing something.

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Comments

  1. Very good points to help out those of us who haven’t formed good habits when it comes to getting things done.

    The best advice is indeed to, “Stop thinking about it and start doing something.” This is the best advice and at the same time the hardest thing to do.

  2. Very good points to help out those of us who haven’t formed good habits when it comes to getting things done.

    The best advice is indeed to, “Stop thinking about it and start doing something.” This is the best advice and at the same time the hardest thing to do.

  3. Thanks, I just procrastinated for another few minutes reading your article.

    It’s a good read, the most important point being being the final line.

  4. Thanks, I just procrastinated for another few minutes reading your article.

    It’s a good read, the most important point being being the final line.

  5. In the programming world it is important, just as anywhere else, to get the top priorities straight. However, making sure you won’t have to do difficult refactorings later on is NOT a top priority. If you just make something quickly, and then you realize that it needs to be rewritten completely, that rewrite can also be done quickly. Make one for throwing away. However, if you carefully construct a detailed grand plan, you still risk runnning into a situation where you’ll have to do a difficult refactoring, only then it’d be a lot more work, as you have to refactor your grand plan in addition to the code.

  6. In the programming world it is important, just as anywhere else, to get the top priorities straight. However, making sure you won’t have to do difficult refactorings later on is NOT a top priority. If you just make something quickly, and then you realize that it needs to be rewritten completely, that rewrite can also be done quickly. Make one for throwing away. However, if you carefully construct a detailed grand plan, you still risk runnning into a situation where you’ll have to do a difficult refactoring, only then it’d be a lot more work, as you have to refactor your grand plan in addition to the code.

  7. Nice article.

    If you’re looking for a real kick in the pants you should check out a post by Quadzilla on SeoBlackhat.com about “DIFN”.

  8. Nice article.

    If you’re looking for a real kick in the pants you should check out a post by Quadzilla on SeoBlackhat.com about “DIFN”.

  9. Very interesting. There are several articles about this, I feel very identified with this topic, and I hope to find a final solution to get my life solved.
    Thanks!

  10. Very interesting. There are several articles about this, I feel very identified with this topic, and I hope to find a final solution to get my life solved.
    Thanks!

  11. Seems very interesting. I guess I will read it later.

  12. Seems very interesting. I guess I will read it later.

  13. Chris,

    Few months back I wrote two articles – ‘Overcoming procrastination’, and ‘Stop overthinking, just do it’. I do get stuck in small small things and am not able to make myself move forward.

    Reading your article, I could resonate with it.
    But I have to say that you have put it more beautifully.

    I especially liked the ‘take-home’ message,
    “Planning is good. Failure to plan is planning to fail. But too much can be as crippling as not enough.”

    Now you are on my ‘keep-track’ list.

  14. Chris,

    Few months back I wrote two articles – ‘Overcoming procrastination’, and ‘Stop overthinking, just do it’. I do get stuck in small small things and am not able to make myself move forward.

    Reading your article, I could resonate with it.
    But I have to say that you have put it more beautifully.

    I especially liked the ‘take-home’ message,
    “Planning is good. Failure to plan is planning to fail. But too much can be as crippling as not enough.”

    Now you are on my ‘keep-track’ list.

  15. Well it’s scary to what lengths people will go to procastinate, myself included.

  16. Well it’s scary to what lengths people will go to procastinate, myself included.

  17. The situation you are describing has a lot of similarities to how software development methodologies evolved over time. For much too long project managers used the ‘waterfall’ methodology, which, simply put, meant something along the lines of “think out everything first in great detail, and then start developing the product topdown”. It took a while before people realized that during such a long period, requirements change. Modern methodologies such as eXtreme Programming (www.extremeprogramming.org) make change a constant factor in the software development process. XP teaches to release quickly and often. A pragmatic approach is what I prefer these days, instead of overanalysis. If you overanalyze, you get nothing done.
    That said, it’s not as easy as it may sound. How do you determine what your core use cases are, so that you have an actual working product after the first iteration? I asked this question during a requirement engineering course a while ago. The teacher answered “the ones that are the most risky”. If only it were that simple. It really depends on a lot of factors, if you ask me. Product managers will sometimes classify use cases as “risky” (as in crucial for their scope) while they are not part of the product foundation. Problems, problems.

    These things deserve a lot of attention and progression, so thanks for writing about it.

  18. The situation you are describing has a lot of similarities to how software development methodologies evolved over time. For much too long project managers used the ‘waterfall’ methodology, which, simply put, meant something along the lines of “think out everything first in great detail, and then start developing the product topdown”. It took a while before people realized that during such a long period, requirements change. Modern methodologies such as eXtreme Programming (www.extremeprogramming.org) make change a constant factor in the software development process. XP teaches to release quickly and often. A pragmatic approach is what I prefer these days, instead of overanalysis. If you overanalyze, you get nothing done.
    That said, it’s not as easy as it may sound. How do you determine what your core use cases are, so that you have an actual working product after the first iteration? I asked this question during a requirement engineering course a while ago. The teacher answered “the ones that are the most risky”. If only it were that simple. It really depends on a lot of factors, if you ask me. Product managers will sometimes classify use cases as “risky” (as in crucial for their scope) while they are not part of the product foundation. Problems, problems.

    These things deserve a lot of attention and progression, so thanks for writing about it.

  19. The post Bezkaz mentioned is here: http://seoblackhat.com/2007/01/29/do-it-fucking-now/

    That post is pretty much the opposite of insightful. It talks, in vastly overgeneralizing terms, about what you should be doing. It’s like the well-meaning mother that says “I already told you three times you should … How often do I have to tell you to …”

    But the problem with procrastination is not that you don’t know what you should do, it’s that you don’t get your ass up and actually do what you know you should do. Unless your most coveted source of happyness is the accumulation of money aquired through shady jobs, the last thing you need in that situation is some stupid asshole from that forum to tell you to forget about playtime and work your ass off already.

  20. The post Bezkaz mentioned is here: http://seoblackhat.com/2007/01/29/do-it-fucking-now/

    That post is pretty much the opposite of insightful. It talks, in vastly overgeneralizing terms, about what you should be doing. It’s like the well-meaning mother that says “I already told you three times you should … How often do I have to tell you to …”

    But the problem with procrastination is not that you don’t know what you should do, it’s that you don’t get your ass up and actually do what you know you should do. Unless your most coveted source of happyness is the accumulation of money aquired through shady jobs, the last thing you need in that situation is some stupid asshole from that forum to tell you to forget about playtime and work your ass off already.

  21. Thanks for the comments guys. It’s good to see well written and reasoned thoughts on the subject, you wouldn’t believe some of the comments others have made :O)

  22. Thanks for the comments guys. It’s good to see well written and reasoned thoughts on the subject, you wouldn’t believe some of the comments others have made :O)

  23. A good post. I write on real estate investing – paralysis by analysis is a real issue in my field. I pointed to this post in a recent article on running evaluations.

  24. A good post. I write on real estate investing – paralysis by analysis is a real issue in my field. I pointed to this post in a recent article on running evaluations.

  25. I appreciated your post. I recently posted on getting past analysis paralysis and found your insight to be a nice supplement and confirmation to what I’ve found.

  26. I appreciated your post. I recently posted on getting past analysis paralysis and found your insight to be a nice supplement and confirmation to what I’ve found.

  27. That was awesome. You described well, some ideas and thoughts on moving forward, positively. Fear is agonizing at best. The excuses are real and answering those will lead you over Go.

    Asking questions to yourself helps in easing the transition of idea to reality. Calming emotions through adjusting your external surroundings while living/working to suit yourself whenever possible, orders the mind. I find this is doing to.

    You made me laugh. Thanks for that. Best therapy ever! :D

    Cheers!

    ps – I found you via http://devceed.com

  28. That was awesome. You described well, some ideas and thoughts on moving forward, positively. Fear is agonizing at best. The excuses are real and answering those will lead you over Go.

    Asking questions to yourself helps in easing the transition of idea to reality. Calming emotions through adjusting your external surroundings while living/working to suit yourself whenever possible, orders the mind. I find this is doing to.

    You made me laugh. Thanks for that. Best therapy ever! :D

    Cheers!

    ps – I found you via http://devceed.com

  29. Excellent tips on overcoming analysis paralysis! I am guilty of not taking action, too!! I just recently started my OWN blog, Epic Web Strategies, after FOUR MONTHS of procrastination! I finally decided to just go for it, even though I didn’t have all the pieces in place just yet.

  30. Excellent tips on overcoming analysis paralysis! I am guilty of not taking action, too!! I just recently started my OWN blog, Epic Web Strategies, after FOUR MONTHS of procrastination! I finally decided to just go for it, even though I didn’t have all the pieces in place just yet.